Should the cake go by dance floor? What about the gift table? Should it be at the ceremony or the reception? And the bar, should it be by the buffet or outside at cocktail hour? Or maybe the bar is best by the dance floor.
Truthfully, there are endless ways to set up both your ceremony and reception. But, there is an optimum way to arrange your tables in order to create the best flow and function for you, your guests, and your vendors. While it’s always a good idea to make one more visit to your venue and ask the venue manager’s opinion while creating your schematic, I’m sharing the rules of thumb I use when designing every wedding set-up.
Rule #1: Food tables should always be in close proximity to the kitchen. This will allow your caterer to put out food, monitor quantities, and replenish with ease. Additionally, with tables near the kitchen area, the caterer will be able to clean up after dinner without having to shlup chafers of left over food across the room. Of course, this rule is only applicable if you are doing a buffet style or action station menu.
Rule #2: All weddings (well, almost all) should have 2 bar set-ups. Both don’t have to be open the whole night or even at the same time. But, if your cocktail hour and reception will take place in two different areas of your venue, I recommend two set-ups so all the bartenders have to do is move from one location to another when it’s time for dinner. Even if cocktail hour will be outside with dinner inside, have a bar in each location because guests tend to not venture inside until told. The bar at your reception should be set up with close proximity to the dance floor. It doesn’t have to be right next to it, but close it better. Why? Because the more people drink, the more they dance. So, if you want the party to keep going, keep them near by so guest’s don’t have to leave the dance floor for very long.
Rule #3: The gift table should be at your cocktail hour location and set up where guests can see it immediately upon entering but away from entrances and exits. There are a few reasons for this. First, if your ceremony and reception are in two different locations, guests will bring gifts to the reception, not the ceremony. Next, when guests arrive at the ceremony, you don’t want them having to search for the spot to leave their gift. Finally, set up gift tables away from entrances and exits so you don’t create a bottleneck as people are arriving and so that “wedding crashers” can’t easily walk in and take gifts and cards without being seen.
Rule #4: Create an entrance flow that keeps guests moving. This means have your gift table, guest book table, and escort cards (if doing assigned tables/seats) near each other and the entrances so guests can get what they need quickly and move on. While all of these items should be near each other, guests should be able to walk in and go to one table or another at their own choosing without having to stop at another first.
Rule #5: The dance floor should be positioned so the or band is not in the middle of the room. Why? Because with DJ equipment and band instruments and amps there are lots of cords. And while I love a good dance floor in the center of the room, I love when guests don’t trip, fall, and injure themselves more.
Rule #6: Make your cake the center of attention. I always like to place the cake somewhere away from the dance floor so no one bumps into the table but I still want it to be the center of attention. Consider putting it somewhere near your head table or sweet heart table. Also, I love a good focus wall behind the cake!
Hope this helps when putting together your reception schematic!